Thursday, April 26, 2007

The First Debate of the Caucus

Well, the first democratic debate has come to an end, and as the political pundits over at MSNBC interview each other and talk about who looked the best, I’ll make the call to arms – bloggers: start your fingers!

For starters, to those of you who don’t know exactly where Hillary, Barack, and John Edwards stand on the issues: don’t feel bad. None of us do. The three front-runners coming into the debate have continued their firm stances of not having any firm stances. Hillary is roughly in favor of leaving some people in Iraq, Barack is more or less in favor of leaving no residual troops, and John Edwards is definitely from a poor, southern family. That’s about all they gave up in their continued campaigns to sound passionate without offering real solutions. Oh, and they’re all Christian. That matters to some people, I know.

If you want to know what their stances are – please just check their official sites, because there’s no point in going through a middleman when the information is so readily available. I’ll put the links at the end, if I can figure out how.

Now, to those of you who don’t know where the lesser-known candidates stand: shame on you! For the first time in a very long time, we have a great cross-section of democrats that are all ready to lead our country into a renaissance of peace and understanding. Any one of these candidates would be an unprecedented leap forward from our current administration, and every one has ideas that are both novel and refreshing. But as is the case with so many things in life, the best ones are flying under the radar. So here they are: the candidates without $20 billion….

Not that my opinion should mean anything to anybody other than myself (please just read about the candidates and make a decision on your own), but I’m officially stating that I feel Bill Richardson (Governor of New Mexico) is the best candidate for president of the United States Of America that we’ve had in decades. For virtually every question he was asked, he had a well thought out and decisive answer prepared, even if he wasn’t asked the same questions as the other candidates. He had multiple-points that he attempted to get to in the 1 minute allotted to him per answer. Admittedly, he doesn’t seem to have mastered the art of being concise with his speech, but that just tells me that he was more prepared than anybody else and he knows that there isn’t a quick, 1-minute answer to these difficult questions. His speech was honest (admitting once that he was the last of the candidates to call for Alberto Gonzales’s resignation, partially because Gonzales is Latino) and his opinions were clear and well stated. The moderator once mentioned that Richardson has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times, and he was the only one to propose a way to give universal health care without raising taxes (which correlates with his track record in New Mexico, but again – check his site for facts. Blogs are for opinions.)

However, I’m not here to blow smoke up Governor Richardson’s ass, as every candidate is worth mentioning. Standing out from the crowd was former Alaskan representative and senator Mike Gravel. His speech was loud and often accusatory with radical ideas and an aggressive style, but frankly: that’s what we need. He was the most vocal against the Bush administration, but was also opposed to the other candidates that would pander to said administration by trading more money for a long-term timetable of withdrawal and taking any action that wouldn’t result in immediate change. The only other candidate looking for such quick action is Richardson whose timetable is “the end of this calendar year” but Gravel offered a virulent path to that end: a call to congress to make a law that would make it a felony for President Bush to continue the war in Iraq. His idealism may be a bit far-fetched, as he would need 67% of congress to over-rule the President’s obvious veto, but the idea is the sort of progressive thought that liberals are looking for.

Another stand-out in the field of candidates is senator Joe Biden, who came across as the most intelligent and professional of the group, even if his opinions are less radical than Gravel’s. Also, despite his great track record he doesn’t have the diplomatic experience that Richardson does. Biden is a very well spoken candidate who advocates a complete withdrawal from Iraq and a quick end to the war. Unfortunately, he has a similar approach as Hillary, Barack, and Edwards in that he seems fine with a slow withdrawal and has no brilliant new ideas to make the changes we all want to see. He does have the intelligence, passion, and experience to run the country though.

Dennis Kucinich, like always, stands out as a passionate and intelligent individual. I’ve been a fan of Kucinich for years, and it’s a shame that once again I see him picking the wrong fights and choosing the wrong places to make a stand. When not one of the other 7 candidates would endorse his plan to impeach Vice President Cheney (this caucus is all about uniting, not further dividing) he pulled out a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution and held it up while explaining that Cheney was going against what the country stands for and needs to be held accountable. A great point, and a good picture that we’ll likely see again during this race, but it certainly didn’t help his popularity. Richardson was right to say that the American people want an honest candidate, but a level of discretion is advisable to somebody involved in a popularity contest. And make no mistake: this is the grandest of popularity contests.

Senator Christopher Dodd also came across as both intelligent and well spoken, but his opinions were little more than regurgitation of everybody else’s stances. He was neither controversial nor particularly memorable, so his presence is more that of a strong benchwarmer than anything else. He reminds me that even the least memorable democratic candidate is infinitely better than the options that the other side has, and we would be lucky to have Dodd as a president, even though I don’t see him making many waves this year. But it’s still early, and we may hear from him yet – he certainly has the capacity to lead the democrats, and we could all rejoice if he were our next president.

As for the three front-runners, they don’t need more press, so I won’t spend as much time talking about them. Hillary was very well composed and presented herself like a President. Her pearls were a bit extravagant (who cares about a $400 haircut when you’ve got a $10,000 necklace?), but I’m not one to make a decision based on superficialities so that’s the end of that. Barack wasn’t his usual self, but that’s not to say he isn’t still deserving of his large following. I was first made aware of him three years ago, and to this day I like the guy. My only problem (like most people’s problem with him) is the lack of experience: it’s more than signing bills and pulling the troops out, and his continued reluctance to take any firm stances would keep me from voting for him. I’d love to see him take the vice-presidency, and then take over after 8 years of internship. That’s a distinct possibility. As for John Edwards: he’s the cookie-cutter candidate that we get at least one of every four years. Just like Al Gore before him and countless others that I won’t waste my time mentioning, he’s got the key phrases (“my Lord” was mentioned, of course) and his look is both clean-cut and conservative (appropriate, considering his approach). He doesn’t represent change – just a solid step away from the current regime.

So what should we all take away from this debate? Hope - tons and tons of hope. Every single candidate up on that stage was a good remedy to the bunch of stubborn misfits that we have in place right now, and no matter what happens – we’ll be much better off in 2009 than we were before. These candidates all represent more than a change of primary color in the executive branch: they represent a change in philosophy and approach. Every single one agrees that war has to be 2nd to diplomacy, not the other way around. They are all more willing to talk about the issues than to give each other grief (even if only one of them was willing to sign Governor Richardson’s agreement not to sling mud during the caucus), and they are all qualified leaders. We are terribly lucky to have this group vying for our votes, and 2009 will prove to be a great year in American history.

So do yourself a favor, and watch the future debates, keep track of the candidates, and know that whatever happens: voting democrat in 2008 is going to be a good decision regardless of your usual party affiliation.

Official sites/candidacy sites:

Bill Richardson

Mike Gravel

Joe Biden

Dennis Kucinich

Christopher Dodd

Hillary Clinton

Barack Obama

John Edwards